By: Jose Pagliery
In late January 2020, U.S. Secret Service agents received information that Rep. Matt Gaetz had accompanied a Florida county tax official they were already investigating on an unusual nighttime visit to a government office—where the local official was allegedly making fake IDs, a source close to the investigation told The Daily Beast.
That tip to the feds came in a text message conversation that Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg had with an employee explaining why they were both in the office one weekend two years earlier, according to this person.
A timestamp visible in the text message thread indicated the conversation took place on Monday, April 16, 2018.
According to three people with direct knowledge of the incident: Greenberg visited the Lake Mary, Florida branch of his tax collection agency that weekend. Grainy surveillance footage captured Greenberg standing near a manager’s desk with another man. Greenberg forgot to set the alarm on the way out, which concerned the assistant branch manager when she walked into the office Monday morning. That employee was surprised to find that drivers’ licenses—which are normally turned in when expired at the tax office for shredding—were scattered all over the desk instead of in the appropriate disposal basket. She reviewed the camera footage and alerted her boss, who in turn contacted Greenberg via text.
“Did you happen to visit the Lake Mary Office on the weekend?” the text message read.
The image obtained by The Daily Beast shows that Greenberg allegedly responded, “Yes I was showing congressman Gaetz what our operation looked like. Did I leave something on?”
The Daily Beast obtained images of additional text messages that purport to show Greenberg helping Gaetz get duplicate IDs—outside of proper channels on a Sunday afternoon. On Sept. 2, 2018, Greenberg directly asked an employee to quickly create a new card that complies with the heightened security standards of “REAL ID,” a process that would normally require providing additional documentation, according to the images.
“Amy- is there anyway to assist one of our Congressmen in getting an emergency replacement ID or DL by Tuesday 2pm? His was lost yesterday and he’s got a flight Tuesday. Doesn’t have any other form of ID currently on him. Sorry to bother you on Sunday,” Greenberg wrote.
Greenberg then confirmed that the favor was for “Matthew Louis Gaetz II,” born on May 7, 1982.
When Greenberg later came under investigation by the Secret Service for identity theft and stalking, agents approached former employees at the tax office to obtain proof of the public official’s activities. That’s when they were suddenly directed to Gaetz.
According to the source who provided the text message conversation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to guarantee their safety, Secret Service agents directed them in the final days of January 2020 to print out the full text message conversation with Greenberg from online AT&T records. That source said those text messages were delivered to the Secret Service, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and most recently, another federal agency.
Gaetz, a Florida Republican, is now the target of a Justice Department investigation that is focusing on allegations that the Republican congressman and Greenberg recruited young women and paid them for sex, according to The New York Times.
On Wednesday, The Daily Beast attempted to file a public records request to obtain a copy of the video surveillance that is believed to show Gaetz with Greenberg on that weekend in April 2018. However, a Seminole County representative indicated that the video is unavailable because the government agency has a policy of deleting all surveillance footage after 60 days. County officials would not comment on what exactly employees have told federal investigators about their recollection of the incident.
The Daily Beast also attempted to reach the former employee who interacted with Greenberg via text message, but was unsuccessful. That employee eventually signed a $50,000 settlement with the Office of the Seminole County Tax Collector over claims of unfair retaliation at work after Greenberg allegedly used a circle of personal friends he hired at the agency to harass and intimidate her and her family. That settlement bars her from “false or defamatory statements” about her former employer but importantly does not prevent her from speaking to government investigators, according to a copy obtained by The Daily Beast.
Her attorney, Daniel A. Pérez, declined to comment on any current efforts to assist federal law enforcement.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida would not confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation into Gaetz.
Prosecutors there do have an ongoing case against Greenberg, who came under federal scrutiny after he repeatedly angered fellow county officials with his bizarre, erratic behavior.
According to people familiar with the investigation, Secret Service agents were initially interested in Greenberg’s failed attempt to allow Seminole County residents to pay their taxes in Bitcoin. Attorneys have revealed in court that the federal probe quietly began by April 2019. That began to heat up when Greenberg ran for re-election and faced political opposition from a fine arts teacher at Trinity Preparatory School.
Federal agents arrested him at his Lake Mary home on June 17, 2020, and the case initially hinged on accusations that Greenberg had set up fake online profiles to defame the teacher and had sent several letters to the school with lurid accusations that his opponent had engaged in sexual misconduct with a student.
As of Tuesday, that case has now vastly expanded to a 33-count indictment that includes a diverse list of crimes that range from wire fraud to sex trafficking. Investigators say Greenberg recruited at least one teenager between 14 and 17 years old to engage in a “commercial sex act” between May and November 2017 in Central Florida and elsewhere.
Investigators also say that Greenberg used his privileged access to Florida’s drivers’ license database to look up private information on “individuals” with whom he “was engaged in ‘sugar-daddy’ relationships.”
Additionally, Greenberg is also accused of making fake IDs—potentially explaining why the 2018 surveillance footage raised concerns that led to that text message conversation handed to investigators.
The Daily Beast obtained text messages handed to federal investigators that allegedly show Greenberg acknowledging that he visited the office on the weekend of August 4, 2018, where there were drivers’ licenses “scattered across the desks and not put away in an organized manner.”
Greenberg has maintained a close relationship with Gaetz for several years. Both were rising stars in Florida’s Republican Party in 2016. They have taken selfies together with political operative Roger Stone in 2017, at AIPAC in 2018, and at the White House in 2019. Gaetz publicly lent his support to Greenberg, cheering him as “a disrupter” who should run for Congress.
They were also together in the Florida panhandle region on July 5, 2019 when they called a state legislator, Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, and left her a peculiar voicemail that has been obtained by The Daily Beast.
“My dear Anna, this is your favorite tax collector. I’m up in the panhandle with your favorite U.S. congressman, Mr. Gaetz,” Greenberg starts to say.
“Hi Anna!” Gaetz jumps in.
“And, uh, we were just chatting about you, and talking about your lovely qualities,” Greenberg continued.
“We think you’re the future of the Democratic Party in Florida!” Gaetz said.
On Thursday, Eskamani told The Daily Beast that she kept Greenberg at arm’s length for years. Their interactions started when she called him out over Islamaphobic comments and then helped him connect with the Muslim community to recover from that. Eskamani said she cautiously entertained “weird” contacts from Greenberg and Gaetz that made her uncomfortable.
“We were not friends. We never hung out. We didn’t talk ever, really. I just played nice. For so many women you’re either very blunt and be called a bitch, or you try to play nice and pivot and deflate,” she said.